Elk are one of the most commonly hunted big game animals in the United States. In fact, they’re the most commonly hunted animal in Colorado and New Mexico. And, due to their large size, which allows for a lot of flavorful meat, it’s not too surprising why they’re so often hunted. But, unfortunately, while they used to be found across much of North America, they’re now only found in more remote locations since many of them were killed off.
Elk, which are also called wapiti (a Native American word for “light-colored deer”) are in the deer family but are much larger than their relatives. Some of the biggest bulls can reach a total of 9 feet in height including their antlers which may get up to 4 feet long!
Since they are so big, it’s not a surprise why they’re a prized animal to hunt. But, what does elk taste like? Well, it tastes somewhat similar to beef, but it has a slightly sweeter flavor and it’s a bit denser and has a darker red color. Read on to learn more!
What Does Elk Taste Like?
In short, elk flavor is similar to beef, but it has a cleaner, sweeter taste that could also be described as rich but mild.
This subtle difference in taste can be attributed to the diet of a wild elk. When an elk eats grasses, shrubs, and other wild plants, it gives the meat this sweeter taste. You can even notice a slight difference in the taste between farm-raised elk and wild elk. This is because, again, of the difference in diet.
The alfalfa, corn, and oat they eat contribute to different tastes, perhaps more akin to that of beef, which also consumes a similar diet when raised domestically.
What Does Elk Jerky Taste Like?
Elk jerky, once it’s been cured and dehydrated, ends up with a taste very similar to that of beef jerky. It can also be prepared in a variety of ways – similar to beef jerky as well.
So, while the taste can be very similar to that of beef jerky, it ultimately will depend on the spices and other ingredients that are used when making elk jerky.
What Does Elk Sausage Taste Like?
Elk sausage will remind you of a lean bratwurst with an earthy taste.
But, to boost the flavor you can add the ‘in-between’ portions of elk meat (the cuts that aren’t prime areas of the elk) with pork and pork fat and ground through a meat grinder. Adding this pork fat to ground elk meat makes it fattier and tastier.
What’s the Texture of Elk Meat Like?
Again, similar to beef, there are different cuts of the elk that each has a different taste and texture.
In general, elk has a soft and lean texture, that would be hard to differentiate from grass-fed steer.
However, there are some slight differences between the different cuts. The tenderloin, sirloin, and medallions of elk are my favorites when it comes to natural tenderness. And the firmer cuts, such as back straps, flank steaks, and roasts, can be softened with the right preparation.
What Tastes Similar to Elk Meat?
Elk Meat vs Deer
Compared to elk, venison (deer) is generally viewed as less-favorable meat.
Venison contains more fat, which gives it a strong, intense, and earthy taste. Unlike beef, where high-fat marbling is highly regarded, the high-fat content of deer meat isn’t necessarily a good thing in terms of taste, which is why most hunters prefer the taste of elk.
Elk Meat vs Bison
Obviously, elk and bison are very different animals – in both how they look and taste.
While elk resemble large deer, bison resemble livestock but are much larger. And even though both of these meats are game meats they’re considered lean as well. Although they might have a slightly gamey taste, they are known for their rich flavor and tender texture.
Muscle mass in bison tends to be quite dense. You will notice that skirt steaks from these two animals look very similar, or even the meat from other cuts. The color of the meat will be deep red, darker than beef, with little fat marbling.
Elk meat will have even less fat. The thick and hearty bison meat is ideal for grilling. The taste of bison is different from that of elk. Overall, bison tastes more like beef than elk. Some people cannot tell the difference between the two.
Elk Meat vs Beef
As you can probably tell by now, as I’ve mentioned a few times already, elk meat has a pretty similar taste to that of beef – particularly grass-fed beef.
However, there are some important differences to point out.
First, since elk meat is much leaner than beef, it doesn’t have that same fatty flavor that many fattier cuts of beef have.
Second, it also has a slightly sweeter and richer taste than beef but, it’s not overpowering as it’s also slightly cleaner. This mainly concerns wild elk however as their diet in the wild contributes greatly to this unique flavor profile.
So, if you were to eat farm-raised elk, it would taste closer to beef than if it’s from the wild.
Elk Meat vs Moose Meat
Compared to elk meat, venison, beef, or bison, moose meat is probably one of the rarest types of meat I’ll talk about.
It seems to be most commonly eaten amongst Alaskans or Canadians due to the higher moose populations the further North you go.
The flavor of moose meat can be described as somewhat similar to the taste of beef, or elk, but tougher and gamier than both. It has a slightly more musky and pungent taste and is also slightly leaner meat as well.
Like elk and beef, the taste of moose meat can depend on some factors. Most notably, these factors that affect the flavor of moose meat include diet, age, sex, and season. For example, calves have a milder flavor than a bigger, older moose.
Wild Elk vs Farm-Raised Elk Meat
When it comes to wild elk or farm-raised elk, there are differences in taste. Elk taste very different from one another, largely due to their diet.
For example, an elk raised on a farm might eat alfalfa, corn, and oats throughout the day, whereas one raised in the wild would eat grasses, shrubs, and other wild plants.
It has everything to do with what the elk eat and how they graze that causes the variance in taste.
Wild elk produce a much more gamey meat than farm-raised elk, which are closer to the flavor of grass-fed cows.
How to Cook Elk
Before you decide to cook elk, it’s important to note that there are a few key differences to keep in mind for the best results.
First, plan on shorter cooking times than ordinary red meat. This is because it’s so low in fat, it can be easily overcooked. The color will still remain dark red even after it’s been cooked.
So, it’s important to pay attention to the temperature and length of cooking times and make sure it’s been defrosted before cooking.
- Cut into 1” thick medallions.
- Cook in a cast iron skillet over high heat for two minutes on each side for medium-rare.
- Best for thicker cuts – around 2.25”
- Quickly sear both sides of the meat on high heat.
- Cook in preheated oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes for medium-rare
- Cut into either 1.5” steaks, medallions, or cutlets
- Cook on high heat for 2.5-3 minutes on each side for medium-rare
Elk Meat Nutrition
Wild game meat like venison, bison, rabbit, and elk have health benefits when compared to other meats from farm-raised or domesticated animals.
The lower fat content of wild game meat is a result of the animals eating their natural diet and being very active outdoors.
Eating wild greens, like shrubs and grasses, also contributes to a lower content of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and a higher content of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. As well as being high in protein and minerals like iron and zinc, wild game meat is also rich in nutrients.
Additionally, elk meat is beneficial in other ways as well.
It has less sodium than other types of meats – only 3% of the daily recommended value (65 milligrams).
When it comes to some other vitamins and minerals, it has an abundance of vitamin B-12 (over 100% of the daily recommended value), riboflavin (45%), and niacin (30%). It may have quite a bit of cholesterol, but it’s on par with other types of meat.
So, if it’s possible, incorporating elk into your diet can provide many nutritional benefits.